20 November 2016

MODERNIST CERAMICS BY PICASSO, MIRÓ, LURÇAT AND THE BAYSWATER THREE


In the dark, grey days of post-war austerity, the ceramists William Newland, Margaret Hine (above) and Nicholas Vergette, known as The Bayswater Three, found a ready market for their cheerful, Mediterranean-influenced pottery and they did well with contracts from the newly-emerging coffee bars. They were influenced by the ceramics of Picasso (below), who took up pottery in his mid-60s, embarking on a new stage in his career at a time when most people are thinking of retiring, and producing hundreds of pieces over the following years. Picasso ceramics were seen in Britain for the first time in 1950 in Picasso in Provence, a show at the Royal Academy, which caused a stir and encouraged many people to take up pottery.


Newland’s papers in the Central Saint Martins archive record much of this period. He was training art teachers at London’s Institute of Education, many of whom were inspired by Picasso’s ceramics. There was an enthusiasm for ceramics in schools, which equipped pottery studios, and education authorities sent round traveling exhibitions of pottery to inspire the pupils.

Newland's enthusiasm for brightly-painted European pottery represented a counter-current to Bernard Leach's muted pottery inspired by the country wares of England and Japan. “It wasn’t that we were anti-Leach,", said Newland, "it’s just that we had other things to do.” But reading his papers, you detect his irritation with Leach, whom he regarded, with some justification, as pretentious and full of himself. He mentions the exhibition of Ceramics in the Home, organised in 1951 by The Observer newspaper that showed work by Newland, Vergette and Hine, Hans Coper and Lucie Rie. Leach wasn’t included. That annoyed him, said Newland, and he kicked up a fuss with his MP. At that point that Leach dismissed the others as “Picassoettes”.


Newland says that they could just as well have been be called Miróettes, because Picasso was only one of their influences. Many other continental artists had turned to pottery at that time, Miró (above), and Lurçat (below) in particular.


One artist not mentioned by Newland was Gino Severini. I didn’t know he had worked in ceramics until I saw this piece (below) in a shop in Cortona, his birthplace. It's painted in overglaze colours on blanks which had been made in a factory. Severini is well known as one of the original Futurists, the iconoclastic artists who grouped themselves around Marinetti, but he had a much longer career post-Futurism, and worked in several media. Not surprisingly he tried ceramics as well. 

There is renewed interest in the artistic ceramics of this period. Some of it is interesting rather than good, but much of it is good as well as interesting, an attempt to create a modernist art pottery that doesn't look back sentimentally towards rural and pre-industrial forms.